The Farber Collection
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Flavio Garciandía

About Flavio Garciandía

b. 1954, resides in Mexico

Far from being merely an aesthetic revolt, the successive waves of new Cuban art after the 1981 Volumen I exhibition transformed—not without conflict—the institutional and theoretical paradigms about the function of art and its place in Cuban society. Their still-unexplored contribution to the Cuban creative economy increased after 1990: Cuban art became an exportable commodity, growing almost as popular in the United States as the legendary tobacco discovered by Christopher Columbus.

This assault on institutional art extended to the academies—a strategy that guaranteed the continuation of these new cultural attitudes. The Visual Arts Faculty at the Superior Institute of Art (ISA), founded in 1976, became the eye of the hurricane.

Flavio Garciandía was an indispensable figure in the ISA. His encyclopedic knowledge of art, his straightforward criticism of students’ work, the energy he invested in redesigning the curriculum, and the example of his own art, endowed him with a profound, if spontaneous, air of authority among students and colleagues alike. Beginning with his photorealist period, Garciandía’s intense body of work reveals the concerns, poetics, and dynamics of Cuban art in general, in such icons as Todo lo que necesitas es amor (All You Need is Love, 1975, MNBA); Catálogo de Formas Malas (Catalog of Bad Forms, 1982); his 1984 series based on proverbs; and the installations at Castillo de la Real Fuerza in Havana (1989).

Garciandía’s art implies the symbolic reconstruction of Cuba as a fusion of intercultural spaces, without the ethnic-historical ghettoization proclaimed by North American multiculturalism in response to the crisis of the white European canon. Among his more lasting contributions to Cuban art are his emphasis on the visual elements of urban culture, and the unfinished, work-in-progress character of “identity” (as opposed to the stereotyped images of rural Cuban life); the creative recycling of kitsch, rather than its death, imposed by official decree; the use of postmodern language as an antidote to the conceptual fatalism implied by mainstream/periphery dichotomy; and the empowerment of a scavenging, cannibalistic spirit—feeding freely on foreign avant-gardes for one’s own purposes—among Cuban artists.

The name of the Venetian traveler in the title links this work, El segundo viaje de Marco Polo (The Second Voyage of Marco Polo) with El síndrome de Marco Polo (The Marco Polo Syndrome), a piece that Garciandía created in 1986. The reference is a pretext for reflection on the concepts of the local and the universal, on intercultural relationships, and on the “digestive” or cannibalistic capacity of Third World artistic communities—subjected, through the weakness of their cultural industries (not lack of creativity), to subjugation and validation in the art markets of the First World.

In its debut exhibition, El Segundo Viaje… was surrounded by live plants and flowerpots of “Chinese” design: a tropical jungle, a cocktail of visual references extracted from political icons, Cuba’s urban subcultures, and the European and North American art canon, all frenetically mixed at a high temperature. This carnivalesque motif introduces a point of view firmly situated in Cuba, from which all other cultural traditions are observed at a distance. The style of Jackson Pollock—emblem of Western artistic freedom during the Cold War—has been recycled, with humor, into a warm, vibrant background. The hammers and sickles, symbols of communism, have been transformed into anthropomorphic creatures. That expressive tool of ornamental kitsch, glitter—known in Cuba as “snow dust”—delineates, against the light, the aggressive outlines of the Miami-style decorative plants, arranged side by side with Malevich’s Suprematist abstractions. El Segundo Viaje… offers an original take on the trophies brought home by the traveler after a voyage around the world. In this case, the souvenirs come from different artistic movements—from sources of visual culture both “high” and “low,” from the East as well as the West, processed according to the will, utopian and ironic, of a Cuban artist.

References: Cited catalogue.

—Abelardo Mena Chicuri